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New Orleans: A Lack of Common Sense

January 7, 2008

hurricane-folly.jpgTen of thousands filed claims with the Army Corps of Engineers as required by law to make a claim for losses in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. 247 of 489,000 of those claims are from residents, businesses and government agencies (hm-m!) claiming $1 billion or more each. USA Today The top claims alone are so massive, the government could never pay them. A New Orleans attorney handling some of the claims stated that everyone that makes a claim must provide evidence to back the claim made. Isn’t that good news? Then there is the fact that most of the claims allege that the corps is to blame for the levee failures. Okay, stop there please. We know for a fact that this is true. New Orleans was “protected” by walls that were, in many cases, 50 years old and largely underbuilt. To make matters worse, in the rush and haste to get levees rebuilt, the corps slapped up walls that were only slightly better than had existed before. Instead of consulting someone that knew more than themselves, like the nation of the Netherlands (the Dutch), the corps proceeded to build levees like the ones they replaced, just higher. Smart. Old levees that still stand have not been brought up to new standards, leaving much of the city at additional risk even now.

Then, there exists the personal judgment standard. I will use myself as an example. I love the beaches of Texas down near Padre Island. Twenty years ago, I made a personal choice not to buy property and live along the beach front. Why? I chose not to rebuild my life every 10 to 20 years because of hurricanes. I figured that life without hurricanes was challenging enough. On the same token, making your home on a plot of land, much less a city, that is six feet below sea level has got to be the most brain-damaged idea on the planet, particularly when you are using such fragile structures for protection from the gulf. The truth of the matter is somewhere in between the two polar opposites. First, people should not be encouraged to rebuild in the damaged areas with the same meager protections in place or perhaps even at all. On the other hand, the Army Corps of Engineers should be interested in building super-strong berms and more substantial dams rather than levee walls, especially on the outer face of the city.

“If they’d built the levees right, they wouldn’t have this problem,” says Daniel Becnel, a Reserve, La., lawyer representing some of those suing the government. Touché. Shouldn’t rebuilding the city of New Orleans be about a measure of common sense? Neither side has any. The government states that it plans to compensate everyone for their losses at taxpayer expense. No common sense at all.

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